Bangkok: the city of darkness and light

Smile upon arrival, smile to say thank you, smile to gently decline an offer, smile and kindly accept the ride and embrace the giant city of Bangkok. Embrace the crowd where you could possibly wait for 300 people before you can book a taxi. Then keep a smile plastered on your face in the daunting traffic because at some point you’ll find it rewarding. Like most Asians, Thai people are not confrontational and they hate it when you are violent. So, keep practicing…

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Old ladies having lunch near the Khlong Toey slums

Bangkok: a city of Light – Plan your itinerary

We had a warm humid and rainy welcome as we arrived in July, in the middle of the monsoon season. Bangkok minus the suburbs is split in two main areas that host most attractions, good hotels, restaurants and nightlife hubs. The old town around the river and downtown districts that can be easily navigated via the Sukhumvit BTS line.

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Sukhumvit BTS

Bangkok is big and hot so it’s recommended to define your points of interest ahead. Always pack  water, wear light clothes and keep a rain cover before venturing out. Getting lost will not help you discover new things unless you navigate with GPS/paper maps. I found “A walking tour  – Bangkok” helpful; the book includes a series of timed walks that takes you through Bangkok’s main districts exploring different architectural styles. It presents 9 paths through 11 maps and 100 illustrations. I also had a small pocket guide from Lonely planet with a pull out map.

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Navigate the old town through the river…

Highlights

Khlong Toey slums

I was heading to the river side seeking a BTS station after a strenuous attempt to walk  to the reclining Buddha temple and stumbled on an array of colorful housing that clearly belongs to the less fortunate population of Bangkok. I kept roaming around, wandering inside and coming day after day after day…You may wonder what’s attractive in poor people housing?

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Delicate constructions hosting thousands…

Tons of things; colors, simple decorations, plantations, utensils, footwear carefully placed on their doormats, glimpses of neat comfortable rooms that may host too many people considering its capacity. The place is simply booming with love and life…

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At the entrance of the slums
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Didn’t mean to intrude…

Riding along the Chao Phraya (river of kings)

 

There are different options depending on your personal preference. I got addicted to the normal express boat that gets as cheap as 10 Bhat.  There is a private option which is the long tail boats available in major piers. Their prices depend on your ability to bargain and customized journey. Beware of cons who may try to rip you off in the middle of the water.

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You can reach the Wat Arun temple with a crossing ferry.

Reclining Buddha (Wat Pho)

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The “reclining” Buddha

Very close to the grand palace, located behind the Emerald Buddha near the Sapphan Taksin pier across the river from Wat Arun temple or temple of the dawn. The Wat Pho is one of the largest temple complexes in Bangkok, other than the giant golden Buddha there are plenty of chapels, statues and architecture to explore. People miss out on the massage school there. If you are interested in a relaxing massage pre-book to avoid a long wait.

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Two monks chilling…

Jim Thompson’s Thai Silk Company

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Silk ladies

The house is near the National stadium BTS,  located beside a Khlong as Jim used to easily navigate with his boat to the river and across the city and some areas in the country. It’s  overlooking the slums and close to MBK shopping mall.

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The khlong right outside Jim’s house…

The place is intriguing because of the inspiring story about an American guy who managed on his own to save the silk industry from extinction in Thailand. Jim was initially studying architecture but for some reasons he failed to get his license, eventually he landed a position in the O.S.S. (now CIA) near the end of WWII,  and was sent to Thailand. He was simply motivated by the fact that the country was importing so much silk despite its potential. From there he managed to make Thai silk and his brand one of the best world wide. He ventured all over Asia, in the process he managed to gather a large collection of Thai art and antiques he acquired from the war ruins.  Some accusation regarding stealing Buddha relics made him donate his house and art collection as a museum. No one knows how he died or if he did as he just disappeared in Malaysia at the age of 52, there were no body, till today the mystery remains unresolved.

Street food

There are two flavors I appreciate in Thai cuisine; red hot chili peppers and lemon grass. Those two flavors are the base for most Thai recipes although the red chili was originally brought by the Portuguese. As a streetfood addict, I fell in love with the sweet sticky rice with mango, fried fish, squid, shrimps, oysters and the amazing Pad thai which is stir fried rice noodles mixed with seafood or chicken or meat.

The city of Darkness: when the night comes

Night life

The night markets are attractive if you are looking for some cheap brands and souvenirs for your pals after sightseeing.  Patpong market is easy to reach as it’s between Siam BTS station and Sala Daeng. There will be a train of street vendors, follow that…

traditional vendor
Traditional street vendor

You’ll be pestered with the sex shops and go go bars, the girls will suddenly block your view with their menus explicitly dedicated to numerous vaginal activities you didn’t think were possible.

patpong night market
The most central night market.

Where poverty reigns

Back to the riverside slums; stories of violence, drugs and sexual abuse are most common. The inhabitants are people who left their home towns  with a dream of a relaxed and wealthy live in Bangkok. However they ended up in small spaces suffering from unemployment, poor hygiene, fragile infrastructure and ignorance.  There are numerous efforts to help and support the kids in these areas for a better future, like the one that father Joe initiated.

Those immigrants flow to Bangkok bearing dreams and expecting endless opportunities. Those dreams crashed at the feet of merciless employers that demand an insane schedule in exchange for a small salary. As a tourist, you may or may not want to play your part when it comes to social responsibility and make sure aware of who you are dealing with and what you are encouraging when spending your money. For example don’t abuse girls because their families are in need, don’t engage in fishy action in Patpong clubs, don’t encourage animal abuse by riding on the back of strained elephants  and the list goes on and on.

You may also want to Read About Thailand…Part 1

 

 

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